Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 33 A Newspaper Is Born

WITH the coming of the spring in 1791, Jefferson's thoughts moved more and more to flight from the brick walls and paved streets of Philadelphia, which he despised, into the sights and sounds of the open country that he loved. He disliked also the hurly-burly of politics and the personal passions it aroused. His sensitive mind shrank from criticism and harsh words, and he hated every controversy that was nor conducted on abstract and philosophical levels. And more and more he was discovering that the level of politics on a national scale was, if anything, lower than that under which he had writhed in anguish during the last days of his governorship in Virginia. He sincerely, and without mental reservations, wanted to get away from it all and return to the pursuits he truly loved.

When he wrote to his daughter Maria that the frogs had begun their first spring-song, that the blue birds had flourished their first salute, and the weeping willow, the lilac and the gooseberry had uncurled their tender leaves in the strengthening sun,1 he was not writing down to her or merely for effect--these were the things that meant more to him than a sharp rejoinder to Hamilton or a British agent.

"Watch," he begged her elder sister, "for the annular eclipse of the sun, which is to happen on Sunday se'nnight to begin about sunrise. It will be such a one as is rarely to be seen twice in one life."2 One may be sure that Jefferson himself was up long before that morning dawn to view the event and rake its measurements.

With similar avidity he had called on his son-in-law to observe the opossum's strangely elusive pouch, and now required of him a report on the natural history of the "weavil of Virginia" for the Philosophical Society. "I long," he added with desperate sincerity, "to be free for pursuits of this kind instead of the detestable ones in which I am now labouring without pleasure to myself, or profit to others."3

Already he was beginning to propose to himself release from public affairs; this time forever. "I am in an office of infinite labour," he told Mazzei, "& as disagreeable to me as it is laborious. I came into it utterly against my will and under the cogency of arguments derived from the novelty of the government, the necessity of its setting out well &c. But I pant after Monticello & my family. I cannot let it be long before I join them."4

What added mightily to his disgust with Philadelphia and all its works

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